MINNEAPOLIS -- During the Twins' recent road trip to Detroit and Kansas City, Michael Cuddyer grew a beard that he intended to keep until he hit his second home run. The right fielder didn't last quite that long, trimming it to a goatee before Saturday's contest against the Yankees -- due to what he called the "itch factor." But later that night, Cuddyer's home run watch was over, too, when he belted his second long ball. Joe Mauer was donning a similar beard in recent days -- not as part of any home run challenge, he said -- but, surprisingly, it was missing when the catcher arrived at the Metrodome for Monday's series finale against the Yankees. And just like Cuddyer, the missing beard signaled the end of the home run drought for the Twins catcher.
In what he said was "about time," Mauer delivered his first home run of the 2008 season on Monday night. It came in a critical situation, as the two-out solo shot knotted the game at 5 in the seventh inning and propelled the Twins to a 6-5 victory over the Yankees. "Maybe everyone should grow beards and shave them off," Cuddyer said with a laugh. Like Cuddyer and some of the Twins' other hitters, Mauer had received his fair share of questions about just when his power would come back. Mauer picked a perfect time to unveil it, as it came with Twins trailing, 5-4, after a close play at the plate in the top of the seventh. On the play, Mauer thought that he tagged Alex Rodriguez before the Yankees third baseman's front foot touched the plate. But home-plate umpire Gary Darling ruled Rodriguez safe, and the Yankees had taken their third lead of the game. Mauer then came up to the plate in the bottom half of the inning with two outs, with a chance to knot the game against left-hander Andy Pettitte, who has been particularly tough on Twins lefties. On a 1-1 count, Mauer belted an up-and-in pitch 328 feet to right field to tie the game at 5. "In the first couple at-bats, he was kind of jamming me in a bit," Mauer said. "I just said I was going to look for one that at-bat and put a good swing on it. I wasn't trying to go deep, but I'm glad it went over there." The Twins then were able to stall the Yankees in the top half of the eighth, thanks to Matt Guerrier's performance in relief and a key defensive play by Cuddyer to throw out Derek Jeter at second base. Cuddyer then was able to capitalize on the shift in momentum, leading off the eighth inning with a double to right off Yankees right-handed reliever Kyle Farnsworth. And like Delmon Young had done twice previously on the night, the left fielder delivered a double to right to score Cuddyer for the third time. This time, it was for the game-winning run, capping a 3-for-4 night with three RBIs for Young. "We knew it was just a matter of time," Mauer said of Young's recent emergence. "He looked good up at the plate tonight, driving the ball." Young and Cuddyer, two players that the Twins have been hoping would heat up after slow starts offensively, combined to go 6-for-8 on Monday with three RBIs and three runs scored. It was a culmination of a good series for both players as well. Cuddyer batted .500 (9-for-18) against the Yankees, and Young went 8-for-18 vs. one of his former American League East foes when he was with Tampa Bay last season. "Everyone on our team is starting to swing it right now," Young said. "We know if we can keep it close and take the lead with our bullpen coming in, we should be able to pull off the win." Seeing the offensive outburst was comforting, but it was the way that his club continued to battle back in the victory on Monday that impressed Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "Every time they scored some runs, we came back and answered," Gardenhire said. "It's important to continue to answer to that baseball team, because they can dominate you if you don't." The early part of the contest had been a see-saw battle between Minnesota and New York, as each club nicked away at each other's starter. Before the game, it appeared to be a mismatch of pitchers. Twins starter Livan Hernandez had a history of trouble against the Yankees, going 0-3 with a 6.06 ERA in five career starts against the Bronx Bombers. Pettitte, on the other hand, was 8-5 in his career vs. Minnesota and had won six of his past seven decisions against the Twins. But both starters would be tagged for five runs over the course of their outings. Despite giving up 13 hits for the second straight start, Hernandez lasted six-plus innings, which was perhaps the biggest gift for the Twins. The club had been looking for a longer outing after the Twins' bullpen had been taxed in the previous two contests. The relief corps stepped up once again following Hernandez's exit, as Dennys Reyes, Guerrier and Joe Nathan combined to give up two hits over the final two innings. Nathan captured his 15th save of the season, and he secured the Twins' second straight victory over the Yankees. The win sealed the series split for Minnesota after it had dropped the first two. The Twins are now just a half-game back of the White Sox for first place in the AL Central. "It was an exciting win, a fun win," Cuddyer said. "Hopefully, we can have a lot more wins like that." For Mauer, the hope is that a few more wins like that will translate into a few more home runs, too. He admits that he had gotten his fair share of ribbing from his fellow teammates, including shortstop Adam Everett, who is currently on the disabled list but had tallied a home run before Mauer. "The biggest thing is, maybe it will get Everett off my back," Mauer said. "He's been giving me a hard time, but it's all in fun." Following Monday's homer, Mauer is now tied with Everett. But he sits one behind another light-hitting infielder, Alexi Casilla, who has two for the season. Is tying Casilla his next goal? "It's something else to look toward," Mauer said with a laugh.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.